How will R.A. Dickey surprise us in 2012?

Generally speaking, the less said about the 2011 Mets pitching staff, the better. Despite enjoying good health among their starting pitchers, as well as playing in a pitcher’s park, they finished 13th in the National League in ERA. Yet Dan Warthen still has a job. But I’m not here to talk about the power of incriminating photos. Instead, let’s talk about R.A. Dickey.

By now, the Dickey tale has been told many times, yet it still seems incredible. It’s difficult to pick out the most unlikely aspect of his story. Is it:

A. The fact that he has no Ulnar Collateral Ligament (roughly 15% of the population does not) yet is still able to pitch in the majors?
B. The fact that he was diagnosed without the UCL when a doctor noticed his arm hanging funny in a picture and prompted the Rangers (the team that drafted him and was ready to sign him to a big contract) to examine him further?
C. That he reinvented himself as a knuckleball pitcher? Most MLB players have toyed with a knuckler at some point in their career. Yet very few actually utilize the pitch on a regular basis.
D. That after finally signing a multi-year contract and cashing in on his talents, Dickey is risking having his 2012 contract voided by hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise money to combat human trafficking in India?

I’d say these were all excellent choices but if pressed for an answer I guess I would go with B. That is until I realized that Dickey had such a strong season with the Mets in 2011 – a team-best 208.2 IP, a SP-best 3.28 ERA and a 2.48 K/BB ratio – despite having his knuckleball be a below-average pitch.

That is pretty remarkable.

Dickey last year threw his knuckleball 75.3% of the time, yet his Pitch Type Linear Weights show that his knuckler was worth -7.4 for the year. For a comparison, Dickey’s knuckler rated 10.8 in 2010. Dickey was successful last year because his fastball was so good. It’s a strange thing to say, as Dickey’s average fastball speed of 84.4 ranked 93rd out of 94 pitchers qualified pitchers on the FanGraphs leaderboards. But his wFB rating of 11.1 was the 14th-best in the majors last year.

If we scale things to 100 pitches, we see Dickey’s knuckler was only -0.31 — not a huge number. But still, it’s got to be a little surprising for a successful pitcher to rely so much on one pitch and have that pitch not be in positive numbers, much less dominating. For example, Mariano Rivera’s cutter had a wCT of 12.2 and a wCT/C of 1.54, which is more in line with what I would have expected for Dickey’s knuckler.

Of course, the knuckleball hardly follows the rules of other pitches. That’s why it’s so hard to hit and so hard to forecast the guys who throw it. If we look at Tim Wakefield, we see that his knuckleball has been a below average pitch the past three seasons, too. But Wakefield has been lousy the past two years and even three seasons ago, he was not as good as Dickey was last year.

After his breakout year in 2010, none of the forecast systems projected Dickey to have another strong season in 2011. But he did. And I expect we’ll see the same pattern here again this year. The Bill James projections are out and it forecasts a 3.89 ERA from Dickey, significantly above last year’s 3.28 mark. ZiPS has him at 3.77 – and that was with 2011’s Citi Field dimensions.

Regardless, I look forward to Dickey completing his Mt. Kilimanjaro hike without incident and providing strong pitching for the Mets again in 2012. And at this point, I expect him to add another wrinkle to what has already been an extraordinary career. Last year we found out that Dickey was a huge Star Wars fan and it will be tough to top that.

But if we find out that he does a killer Howard Megdal impersonation, I think that will work.

Mets Notes: Acosta v. Parnell, Pagan’s 2012 status and Duda magic

Manny Acosta pitched two scoreless innings last night and struck out five of the seven batters he faced. After giving up 9 ER in his first 7.1 IP with the Mets this year, Acosta has allowed just 4 ER in his last 27.2 IP. He has a 1.30 ERA in that stretch with 7 BB and 31 Ks. Manager Terry Collins has finally allowed Acosta to pitch more meaningful innings but that seemingly has more to do with the implosion of other relievers than the success Acosta has achieved.

The Mets continue to give Bobby Parnell every chance to be a successful late-inning reliever despite a track record no better than Acosta’s. Parnell was gifted the eighth-inning role out of Spring Training this year while Acosta was exposed to waivers. Both pitched well in 2010 for the Mets but Acosta had a 1.69 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP in ST while Parnell had a 4.09 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP.

Parnell blew the save in last night’s game and picked up the loss. He has a 4.18 ERA on the year with a 1.54 WHIP. But because he can throw the ball 100 mph he gets every chance to perform in key situations. Acosta cannot reach triple-digits with his fastball, but with an average fastball velocity of 94.4 and a K/9 of 9.0 this year, it’s not like Acosta has anything for which to apologize.

In the last two seasons, here’s how Acosta and Parnell have produced for the Mets:

IP ERA WHIP K/9 HR BB K
Manny Acosta 74.2 3.13 1.232 9.3 10 28 77
Bobby Parnell 82.1 3.61 1.482 9.4 5 29 86

When he was struggling earlier this season, Acosta allowed 4 HR in his first 7.1 IP. He definitely has some gopher-ball tendencies, but even with that, he still has a better ERA than Parnell. It’s time for Mets fans to embrace Acosta and it’s time for management to make sure he is on the 2012 team. While he did not come up through the farm system like Parnell did (and is four years older, too), Acosta has earned the right to be used regularly in key situations.

HAS ANGEL EARNED HIS WINGS?: There has been a lot of speculation that the Mets will look to save money by non-tendering Angel Pagan in the offseason. Mets fans had high hopes for Pagan coming into the season and quite frankly he has not reached expectations. However, in his last 165 PA, Pagan has a .299/.323/.433 line. A .756 OPS would put him comfortably in the middle of the pack among full-time center fielders.

But it’s not his offense that may lead to the end of his Mets career. Baseball-Reference shows Pagan with a -0.9 dWAR this year. FanGraphs shows his RZR of .917 as ranking 15th among 20 full-time CF and his -17.8 UZR/150 ranks dead last. The Mets are 47-55 when Pagan starts in CF and are 16-9 when Jason Pridie starts there, despite Pridie’s inferior offensive numbers.

It should be pointed out that Pridie’s starts came while the team had Carlos Beltran and Daniel Murphy in the lineup and the Mets were playing their best ball of the season. But that does not take away from the fact that Pagan has had a poor defensive season. Under previous management, Pagan might be a cinch to return in 2012. But under Sandy Alderson, no one should take that for a given.

R.A. ROLLS ON: The Mets started R.A. Dickey on short rest Friday night and he responded with a Quality Start and picked up the win. It was the second straight victory for Dickey and the first time all year he had won consecutive decisions, much less back-to-back starts. Wins have been hard to come by for Dickey this season. After a rough beginning of the year, he has a 3.01 ERA in his last 20 starts but is just 6-6 in that span.

HOME SWEET HOME?: Of the remaining 25 games in the season, the Mets play 15 home games. For most teams that would be a welcome schedule; however, the 2011 Mets have played better on the road. This year they have a 37-34 road record, tied with the Diamondbacks for the fourth-best away record. But at Citi Field the Mets are 30-36, which ranks 13th in the 16-team NL. Last year the Mets were 47-34 at home and 32-49 on the road.

FROM THE ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU: Lucas Duda’s RBI single in the seventh inning snapped a 2–2 tie and plated the decisive run in the Mets’ 3–2 win over the Marlins on Wednesday night. Duda had a .517 batting average from the seventh inning on in August, recording 15 hits in 29 late-inning at-bats and driving in 13 runs. That was the most late-inning RBIs for any major-league player in August and the only major-league player with a higher late-inning batting average in the month (minimum: 25 plate appearances) was Casey Kotchman (16 for 30, .533).

Inside the numbers for R.A. Dickey

Last night R.A. Dickey threw a Quality Start (QS) and came away without a win, continuing a disturbing trend here in 2011. Both his record (5-11) and his ERA (3.72) are not indicative of how well he has pitched for most of the season. Let’s take a deeper look into Dickey’s numbers.

So far this year, Dickey has thrown 16 QS and has a record of 5-6 in those games. How unusual is that? Last year I did research covering Mets pitchers for 3 ½ seasons and found that in that span the Mets had 317 QS with a 176-50 record. They get a decision in 71 percent of the team’s QS and have a winning percentage of .779 when their starter goes at least 6 IP and gives up 3 ER or fewer.

Dickey is essentially where he should be in terms of decisions from his QS, as he has picked up a win or a loss in 69 percent of his QS. Where he really falls short is in winning percentage, where his .455 mark falls .324 points below average. If Dickey was perfectly average, he would have a 9-2 record (11 QS * .779 = 8.569 wins).

Baseball Prospectus has a stat they call “Support Neutral Wins,” which they define as the pitcher’s expected number of wins assuming he had league-average support. Dickey has a support-neutral record of 9.7-9.2 or 10-9. Four extra wins in QS would get him to 9 W for the year.

In looking at Dickey’s game logs, he could have picked up the “missing” win on 7/3, when he went allowed 1 ER in 5 IP against the Giants and got a no-decision. The other thing that stands out from the game logs is that Dickey easily could have two more losses this year. On 5/3, he allowed 6 ER in 6 IP and got a no-decision while on 6/16 he allowed 6 R (4 ER) in 4 IP and did not factor in the decision.

Earlier, I mentioned that Dickey’s ERA was not truly reflective of how well he pitched most of 2011. And that’s because he was putrid for most of his first nine starts. He finally righted the ship on 5/20 but in his next start he injured his foot. That Dickey continued to right the ship while pitching at less than 100 percent is very impressive to me.

In his last 18 games, Dickey has a 3.11 ERA with 25 BB and 81 Ks in 115.2 IP. That’s a 1.95 BB/9 and a 3.23 K/BB mark – both outstanding numbers. Yet he’s just 4-6 in that stretch.

Many wondered if Dickey could come close to his outstanding 2010 season once batters had a full year to watch him pitch and come up with ways to attack him. In the last three months, Dickey has answered that question with an emphatic yes. His ERA in his last 18 games is just slightly higher than what it was a season ago. Dickey’s strikeout and walk numbers are both superior to what they were in 2010.

Dickey signed a two-year deal in the offseason. Mets fans should be glad that he will be on the team again in 2012. Now if they only had three more pitchers just like him, they would be all set.

R.A. Dickey=hard luck loser

Another game, yet another tough luck loss for R.A. Dickey.

The man can’t catch a break. After limiting the Braves on Friday night to just two runs in seven innings pitched, the Mets couldn’t muster any more offense than a David Wright RBI double and lost another anaemic outing. Friday’s defeat now puts Dickey’s record at 5-10.

On the surface a 5-10 record looks discouraging and below average, but Dickey too many times has been the victim of poor run support and bullpen letdowns.

Dickey has pitched his fanny off and competes until the bitter end. His ERA (3.72) and WHIP (1.29) suggest that he is indeed a quality starter. Certainly not great, but good nonetheless.

Here are the stat lines from Dickey’s last nine games started:

8/5 vs. Atl.: 7 IP, five hits, zero walks, two runs and five strikeouts L

7/30 @Was: 6 IP, six hits, two walks, three runs and one strikeout L

7/25 @Cin: 6.2 IP, eight hits, one walk, two runs and seven strikeouts W

7/20 vs. St. Lou: 6.1 IP, eight hits, one walk, four runs and four strikeouts ND

7/15 vs. Phi: 7 IP, six hits, two walks, four runs and five strikeouts L

7/8 @SF: 7 IP, seven hits, zero walks, two runs and four strikeouts ND

7/3 vs. NYY: 5 IP, two hits, two walks, one run and three strikeouts ND

6/28 @Det: 7 IP, 10 hits, three walks, three runs and six strikeouts W

6/22 vs. Oak: 8 IP, three hits, one walk, one run and nine strikeouts ND

As you can see, Dickey has posted a quality start in six of nine outings, while pitching well in the Yankee game despite pitching only five innings. And in the other two vs. the Cardinals and Phillies, he was at least manageable. In fact, Dickey has not given up more than four runs since May 26 against the Cubs.

What’s not benefiting Dickey this year is his high number of walks issued. He has walked 41 batters in 140.2 innings pitched. This is not like the Dickey of last year, who only issued 42 all of last season. His career high for walks is 51 set in the 2008 season, which he’ll probably surpass this year.

While Dickey has been putting more runners on base via the walk, he has at least upped his strikeout numbers. With 95 strikeouts thus far, he is on pace to better last years’ mark of 104. That puts him basically at a 2 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio. His quintessential knuckleball just doesn’t have the same bite as it did last year, but yet somehow he has more strikeouts on the year.

I’m not suggesting that Dickey is a top of the line rotation ace, but the guy gives you all he’s got and then some. Remember this is a guy who is pitching on a torn plantar fascia. Most pundits thought Dickey would have a hard time replicating his success of 2011 in which he went 11-9 with a sparkling 2.84 ERA and 1.19 WHIP, and to some degree they’re right.

However, Dickey hasn’t been a complete bust and with a little better luck his season could have looked a whole lot brighter.

Sometimes if you don’t have bad luck, you have no luck at all.

What do the 2011 Mets lack in SP?

Entering the 2011 season one of the biggest question marks was how the Mets’ SP were going to do with Johan Santana on the shelf. Would the team be able to handle not having an ace? There were other concerns about the starters, too. Could Chris Capuano and Chris Young stay healthy and regain their earlier form? Could Jonathon Niese take a step forward? And finally, could Mike Pelfrey repeat his 15-win season from 2010?

The answers to these have been mixed. Niese has been a solid pitcher, Capuano has stayed healthy and Dillon Gee has stepped forward to stabilize the rotation. On the negative side, Young fell apart physically, Pelfrey has taken a step backwards and Santana just recently had a setback in his rehab. The Santana news is the worst of all, meaning we could be in a similar position again in 2012.

Can the Mets handle not having an ace?

Everyone throws around the term “ace” but there’s no clear cut definition of what makes a pitcher into one. You’re just supposed to know when you have one. Roy Halladay is an ace, but is Jaime Garcia? It all depends on how you define the term.

Instead of worrying about semantics, let’s instead look at pitchers and break them down into percentiles. Let’s start with doing this by ERA. If we take all starters who have thrown at least 80 IP, we see the 30th-best ERA is 3.19 so far this year. If pitchers were distributed equally among team, each squad would have one pitcher with a 3.21 ERA or better. This would be your #1 SP

The 60th pitcher has an ERA of 3.69 so each team, assuming the same equal distribution, would have a pitcher with an ERA between 3.20 and 3.69. This would be your #2 SP. The #3 SP would have an ERA between 3.70 and 4.23 and your #4 SP would have between 4.24 and 4.92 ERA. Your #5 SP would have an ERA 4.93 and above.

By ERA, the Mets best pitcher is Gee and he rates as a bottom-tier #2 SP. Dickey rates as a strong #3 and Niese is a solid #3. Capuano and Pelfrey are solid #4 SP.

The problem is not just that the Mets do not have a #1 SP, it’s that they barely have a #2 SP. On the flip side, they do not have a #5 SP, either, which certainly helps things out. After inserting Gee into the lineup the Mets have been healthy and reasonably productive with their starters.

But we know that xFIP is a better indication of a pitcher’s quality than his ERA is. So, how do SP break down via this metric? Here are the bottom numbers for each group:

#1 SP – 3.44
#2 SP – 3.80
#3 SP – 4.05
#4 SP – 4.42

By xFIP, the Mets do have a #1 SP with Niese (3.22). They have two strong #3 pitchers in Capuano (3.86) and Dickey (3.88). Gee is a bottom tier #4 SP (4.39) and Pelfrey is one of the better #5 SP (4.46).

Either way, the Mets are missing an elite pitcher. If you go by ERA, the Mets need to add a #1-type pitcher but if you go by xFIP, they may really only lack a #2-type guy.

We hope the Mets will not be as financially handcuffed after this year as they were last offseason. However, with the Madoff clawback lawsuits yet to be finalized, no one really has any firm idea what to expect. Will the Mets go after someone like C.J. Wilson (3.38 ERA/3.47 xFIP) to fit in as a #2-type SP, if the budget allows?

Do you think the Mets should go to the free agent market do sign a #1 or #2 SP? And if so, do you think they should non-tender Pelfrey? These are some of the decisions awaiting Sandy Alderson in the offseason.

R.A. Dickey is the tallest dwarf among Mets pitchers

The 2011 Mets do a lot of little things well. They get lots of baserunners, they excel at hitting with two outs and they have even come around to be productive with the bases loaded, a minor miracle compared to the past few years. But one thing they are absolutely dreadful at is getting production from the ninth spot in their lineup.

The Mets pitchers are last in the National League with a .089 AVG. They are last in the NL with a .122 OBP. And to complete the hat trick, they are last in the league with a .106 SLG. No team expects to get much offense from their pitchers. But the Mets have received the worst. Last year, Mets pitchers posted a .171/.208/.211 line, which is a .419 OPS or nearly 200 points higher than this year’s .228 OPS.

National League pitchers have scored 156 runs or an average of 9.75 runs. The Mets have scored six, which is one-third of the 18 scored by the Brewers and ahead of only the Pirates. NL pitchers have driven in 173 runs or an average of 10.8125 per team. The Mets have 6 RBIs, one-fourth of the 24 plated by the Diamondbacks and ahead of only the Cubs.

The only offensive category where the Mets pitchers aren’t dreadful is in sacrifice hits, where their 24 SH place them firmly in the middle of the pack. But that has at least as much to do with getting runners on base for the pitchers to bunt over as any skill in getting the sacrifice down. Baseball-Reference’s main split page does not give total sacrifices attempted. Just in last night’s game against the Reds, Jonathon Niese was unable to get a sacrifice down in the fifth inning and that’s hardly the only time recently that a Mets pitcher did not deliver a sac bunt.

R.A. Dickey leads the team’s pitchers with six hits. Dickey has a .171/.194/.171 line. If you recall, Dickey was a pretty good hitting pitcher in 2010, as he went 13-51 for a .255 AVG. But this year Dickey started off 1-25, a .040 AVG, and went 13 games (12 starts) without a hit. However, Dickey rediscovered his stroke here in July, with hits in four of his five games. Dickey has battled injuries, which likely hurt his batting numbers.

The next best hitting pitcher for the Mets is Niese, who has three hits in 40 at-bats for a .075 AVG. Niese has struck out 25 times this year or in 62.5 percent of his ABs. However, Niese did deliver one of the most surprising moments of the year for the Mets, as he delivered a pinch-hit triple in the 11th inning in a game against the Marlins.

Chris Capuano and Dillon Gee have two hits apiece for the Mets and combined they are 4-61 (.066), with Capuano having one extra at-bat. The title for the worst-hitting pitcher on the staff goes to Mike Pelfrey, who has managed just one hit in 33 ABs. Pelfrey had a career-high seven hits in 2010 but lifetime he is 20-236 (.085 AVG).

In addition to his fine pitching, Chris Young was shaping up as the best-hitting pitcher on the staff before he went down with a season-ending injury. Young was 3-9 with 2 RBIs and he had as many SH (2) as Pelfrey in 26 fewer PA.

Three relievers have come to bat for the Mets this year. Taylor Buchholz is 0-2 while Francisco Rodriguez went down hacking in his first career plate appearance. D.J. Carrasco was the other reliever and he successfully delivered a sacrifice bunt.

Finally, I thought it would be interesting to see who the best hitting pitcher in Mets history is. With a minimum of 25 PA, Pat Mahomes takes the honor with a .688 OPS. Mahomes had four doubles among his nine hits while a member of the Mets. Rounding out the top five is Mark Bomback (.615), Roger McDowell (.609), Mike Hampton (.586) and Skip Lockwood (.586).

Dickey currently has a lifetime .500 OPS with the Mets and ranks 13th in team history.

Mets Notes: Playing without Beltran, Pagan’s splits and April 21st

Now that a trade of Carlos Beltran seems imminent, people are coming out of the woodwork to defend him and his production in his time with the Mets. But where were these people at the beginning of the year? Mets fans pledged their allegiance to Jose Reyes and now it seems likely that the club will try to retain Reyes after his contract is up, due in some part to the support from the faithful.

Reyes is younger, plays a more important position and came up through the farm system – three pretty good reasons for fans to prefer him. But the deafening silence from most of the fan base (we felt differently) in regards to Beltran the first three-plus months of the year was inexcusable. Especially as Beltran was thought to be the most fragile Met at the beginning of the season and has instead turned into the team’s most durable player.

And of course there was the matter of production. While Reyes wowed the fans with all of his multiple-hit games, Beltran was simply leading the team in HR (15), RBIs (61), walks (52) and OPS (.917) while placing second in runs (56).

Also, the Mets missed Beltran more when he was out of the lineup than they did Reyes. While Reyes gets credit for igniting the team, the club is 7-8 when he does not play. Meanwhile the Mets are 1-4 when Beltran is out and is 2-7 in games he does not start. It could be ugly without his bat in the lineup the final two months of the season if Beltran is indeed traded.

ANGEL OF THE EVENING: Angel Pagan gave the Mets the win Wednesday night with a walk-off home run in the 10th inning. So far this year, Pagan has a .750 OPS in night games (213 PA) compared to a .427 OPS in day games (82 PA). Additionally, 17 of his 18 extra-base hits have been under the lights, including all four of his home runs.

Pagan also has a big difference in his results based on where he bats in the order. When he’s in one of the top four spots in the lineup, Pagan has a .144 AVG (16-111) compared to a .289 AVG (46-159) when he bats fifth or lower. Obviously there is a lot of overlap in these two splits, as Pagan batted second in the order early in the season when the club played more day games.

However, when Pagan first returned from the DL, he played 34 games where he mostly batted fifth in the order. He had a .305/.379./.414 slash line in those games. Then he moved to the leadoff spot with Reyes out and in 12 games batting first he managed just a .192/.246/.288 line.

RAH RAH RAH FOR R.A.: Starting pitcher R.A. Dickey did not have his best stuff last night but he battled and gave the Mets a chance to win. Dickey’s record this year is just 4-8 but that’s not really indicative of how well he has pitched, especially here recently. Dickey got a no-decision last night in a game the Mets eventually won. In his last six starts, the Mets are 5-1. However, Dickey has recorded a 1-1 record in that span.

IZZY DURABLE ENOUGH FOR CLOSER?: Wednesday night Jason Isringhausen pitched two innings in the Mets’ extra-inning game and picked up the win. It was the first time all season he went for more than an inning and the first time in more than two years an outing extended into a second frame. He last pitched two innings on 5/27/09. Isringhausen appeared in just four more games after that multi-inning appearance in 2009 before being sidelined with an elbow injury, which kept him out of the majors until he resurfaced with the Mets this season.

DO YOU REMEMBER APRIL 21st?: That was the day the Mets came closest to fielding their expected lineup. The batting order that day was: Reyes, Pagan, Wright, Beltran, Bay, Davis, Turner and Nickeas. Doesn’t that look nice? They won that game, 9-1. Of course, Pagan got hurt in this one and ended up missing more than a month. By the time he came back, both Davis and Wright were sidelined.

Compare that to the lineup the Mets trotted out on July 18th, which was: Pagan, Harris, Murphy, Hairston, Duda, Bay, Thole and Tejada. Not surprisingly, the Mets lost that game, 4-1. Since then the Mets have gotten back Reyes and Beltran and Wright is expected back soon. However, it’s unlikely that Davis will return and Beltran could be traded any day, which means we will never get to see the expected 2011 Mets lineup.

I’M GONNA DJ AT THE END OF THE WORLD: Since being recalled in mid-June, D.J. Carrasco has made 14 appearances and 11 of those were games decided by three or more runs. The last time he was brought into a close game was July 10th, when he came on with the Mets losing 2-0. He promptly gave up two RBI singles to give the Giants a 4-0 lead in a game that ended up being 4-2. Here are the final scores in the games he has pitched since June 24th:

8-1, 14-5, 16-9, 5-2, 5-1, 6-0, 4-2, 7-2 and 8-5. That last game the score was 4-0 when Carrasco came on and he added a run to the deficit. Since the recall, Carrasco has a 4.50 ERA and has 5 BB and 6 Ks in 16 IP. Is there any wonder that Terry Collins has such little faith in him and uses him primarily in low leverage situations?

Mets Notes: Reyes, Turner and old pal Jeff Francoeur

So much has been made about the fantastic season Jose Reyes is in the midst of right now that it’s easy to forget that this is what we missed the past two seasons. In Reyes’ last full year before the assorted leg injuries that torpedoed his 2009 season, he set career highs in hits (204), doubles (37), triples (19) and on-base percentage (.358). And Reyes did this as a 25-year old.

Would we be surprised at his 2011 season if Reyes had been healthy and continued a “normal” aging process the past two years? Yes, he’s been terrific this season. But he was also fantastic before the leg injuries and what he’s doing now underscores what as fans we missed out on the past two seasons.

Right now Reyes is leading the league in runs (55), hits (105), triples (13) and average (.335). According to ESPN, Reyes is on pace for 119 runs, 227 hits, 43 doubles, 28 triples and 56 stolen bases. He currently sits with an .889 OPS. Earlier this year, owner Fred Wilpon declared that Reyes wasn’t worth Carl Crawford money. It’s fair to point out that Crawford, a left fielder, has never posted an OPS higher than .851 and never scored more than 110 runs. Additionally, Crawford’s career high in doubles is 37 and triples is 19.

Hard-luck Dickey: R.A. Dickey lost a win last night when the bullpen blew his lead in the ninth inning. While Dickey’s overall record looks lousy, in his last seven starts he has a 2.23 ERA and a 0.985 WHIP. In that span he’s thrown 44.1 IP and has allowed just 12 BB to go along with 37 Ks. But Dickey is just 2-2. He’s pitched well enough to have earned five wins in that stretch. If Dickey keeps pitching like this the wins will come eventually

Paulino punishes LHP: When the Mets signed Ronny Paulino, he seemed like an ideal platoon-mate for the lefty-hitting Josh Thole. And while it took awhile for Paulino to make his Mets debut, he has been just as good as advertised. In 42 PA this year versus southpaws, Paulino has a .342/.390/.368 line, which tracks nicely with his career line against lefties. Overall, Paulino has a .338/.390/.482 line against portsiders. Which means that Paulino could be thought to have underperformed against LHP this year, as his slugging percentage is 114 points below his lifetime average.

The RBI machine: No Met has been better about coming through in the clutch than Justin Turner. Last night he drove in the game-winning run when he turned into a ball and was hit by the pitch with the bases loaded. Turner now has 30 RBIs in 178 PA. According to Baseball-Reference, the average MLB player has 18 RBIs after 178 PA.

Baseball Prospectus shows Turner driving in 25.4 percent of the runners that were on base when he came to the plate. Not only is that the top mark on the Mets (Reyes is second with an 18.3 percent rate) but it is also the best mark in the majors among players with 100 or more PA. Last year Carlos Gonzalez led all major league players with at least 500 PA with a 22.3 percent rate. Angel Pagan had the top rate on the Mets with an 18.4 mark.

Rapid Robert Returns: Bobby Parnell has been extremely good this month. After returning from the minors, Parnell allowed 2 UER runs in his first outing on the last day of May. Since then he’s allowed 1 ER in 9 IP. In that span he’s allowed 2 BB and has 11 Ks. Parnell has limited opponents to a .558 OPS. And all of this comes about even though opposing batters have a .364 BABIP against him. Parnell has been pretty hittable in his major league career, with a lifetime .342 BABIP with the Mets. He’s going to have to limit the HR and keep down the walks in order to succeed. His results in June show what can happen when everything is clicking.

Finally, Frenchy: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Jeff Francoeur joins a new club, a bunch of stories make the rounds about how he’s made the adjustment that’s going to turn his career around and he gets off to a hot start. This year, Francoeur had a .980 OPS after 30 games and 130 PA.

Since then, Francoeur has a .222/.274/.302 line in 179 PA (.576 OPS). He still doesn’t walk and he still doesn’t hit for power, so when the singles stop falling in, there’s nothing left. Just in case you forget how his Mets tenure ended, Francoeur posted a .216/.267/.322 line in his final 404 PA (.589 OPS) with the team.

You’ve got to admire consistency like that, even if the only thing consistent is lousy hitting.

Who is the Mets’ ace?

As the Mets once again climbed back to .500 on the year after last night’s 4-0 victory over the Braves, the Mets have been winning games on the heels of some terrific starting pitching. Mets’ starters have now tossed 11 straight quality starts (sans last night’s rain-shortened start for Dillon Gee) and have gone 7-4 in those games. On their current road trip, the Mets have assured a winning record and have gone 6-3 in the process.

This recent surge now has the Mets in third place in the NL East (leapfrogging the struggling Florida Marlins) while still placing them just 3.5 games back in the Wild Card standings.

The starting pitching has been nothing short of fabulous of late, and if the Mets are to make a push for the postseason, the starting pitchers will have to continue to throw gems.

So, in a utopian world, let’s just say the Mets do make the playoffs. (Stay with me for argument’s sake.)

If this were to happen, it begs the question: Who would start the opening game of a playoff series?

In other words, who is the Mets’ ace?

Excluding the rehabbing Johan Santana (who may or not be himself upon his expected return-if he ever does return), let’s closely examine the candidates:

  • Mike Pelfrey
    The de-facto ace entering the season, Pelfrey has simply been too erratic for anyone’s liking. Pelfrey has gone Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde too many times. Pelfrey has been solid in his last two starts (13 innings pitched and allowing only four earned runs), but he is still just 3-5 on the year with a 5.11 ERA.
  • R.A. Dickey
    After a rough beginning, Dickey has been starting to deal of late. Dickey, believe it or not, has been better since suffering a tear of his plantar fascia and has thrown 23.2 innings while allowing only seven earned runs in his last three starts. Dickey has his knuckle ball darting again. However, Dickey has not been the beneficiary of good run support, and as a result he has dropped two of his last three decisions. Still, Dickey loves the challenge and is a true gamer.
  • Jonathon Niese
    Niese has had perhaps the best run of his career in the last couple of weeks. Niese has won three out of his last four starts while throwing 28 innings and allowing only five earned runs. Niese has been devastating hitters with his nasty curve ball, and the maturation he has developed is making him a complete pitcher.
  • Chris Capuano
    Another pitcher who just keeps on getting better as the season progresses is Capuano. Capuano, while building up arm strength after prior injury woes, is now trusting his stuff more and is becoming a valuable asset to the Mets’ rotation. Capuano is 2-0 in his last two starts and has allowed only one run in his last 13 innings pitched. Capuano is still just 5-6 on the year with a 4.40 ERA.
  • Dillon Gee
    The pitcher du jour of the moment has to be Gee. Gee has simply been scintillating as a rookie, and has been better than anyone could have ever imagined. Gee was in top form once again last night (4 innings pitched and only one hit and two walks allowed) before the rain came. Gee is still 7-0 on the year (with the Mets wining each game he started) with a sparkling 2.33 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.

So, with Pelfrey battling inconsistency issues and with Capuano being up and down himself while shaking off the injury rust, the candidates to be the Mets’ ace has to come down to Dickey, Niese and Gee.

In my opinion, if a playoff game is on the line, I would not be willing to put Gee on the mound as my ace. Gee, in all likelihood is in for a market correction and he’s still too wet behind the ears. By the end of the year, it’s doubtful that Gee will be the best Mets’ pitcher, as he is today.

Thus, the race to be the ace of the Mets has to be between Dickey and Niese.

While Dickey is a gutsy trooper, I’d have to go with Niese as the Mets most polished, durable and dependable arm.

Niese has had his growing pains, but he is finally evolving into the pitcher the club envisioned him being when they selected him in the 7th round of the 2005 draft. While he is no Roy Halladay, Niese is no slouch and he is clearly ready to take the next step.

So, the debate rages on. Who would be your choice as Mets’ ace?

Dickey’s health will be key to Mets’ rotation success

While R.A. Dickey is having a hard time replicating his success of last year, his health will still be critical to any success the Mets rotation may have this season.

In Thursday’s damp and soggy series finale in Chicago, Dickey fell in pain attempting to cover first base on a play in the third inning. Dickey was in obvious pain, and many Mets’ fans feared the worse. There was concern that Dickey ruptured his Achilles heel.

Fortunately, Dickey only has a torn plantar fascia. It sounds worse than it is. It’s a condition many athletes have to deal with. This injury boils down to just how much pain Dickey can manage. Dickey has said that he will go ahead and pitch with the pain. Dickey is scheduled to throw a side session on Sunday, and depending on how he throws he could make his next start.

How Dickey pitches in this condition will prove to be of paramount importance. The staff, already a weak point, cannot have any more injuries without it severely impacting the team.

Until Johan Santana gets back, the Mets are extremely thin in the rotation with little help in the minors.

Pat Misch was just demoted on Friday, and if Dickey finds the pain unbearable, then Misch could conceivably be recalled to the big leagues.

At this point, do we even want Misch back up, if that were to happen? He has proven to be inadequate in his time with the Mets this year (10.29 ERA, 2.14 WHIP). Perhaps, Misch isn’t suited for the bullpen and would be more comfortable starting games.

Regardless, let’s hope Misch won’t have to start for the Mets for an extended period of time.

Besides Misch, the only viable options-and it’s a stretch to consider them that-on the farm includes Chris Schwinden (3-2 with 2.36 ERA in Buffalo) and D.J. Carrasco. Remember him?

Also, remember this is a Mets’ club who already lost Chris Young for the year and also is pinning hopes that another reclamation project, Chris Capuano, can hold up for the year.

Again, Dickey has been nothing special (2-5, 4.50 ERA), but he is coming off his best start of the year against the Yankees (6 IP, 4 hits, 1 ER and 6 K’s and the victory) and he does eat innings while usually keeping the Mets in games.

With Friday’s loss to the Phillies, the Mets are now four games under .500. Now is not the time for the Mets to have to deal with an injury to one of their starting pitchers. They can scrape by and make do with replacements with Ike Davis and David Wright on the shelf.

However, starting pitching is one area where it would be very hard to get by with unproven and unreliable arms from Buffalo.

Dickey will have to take the brunt of the pain to try and keep the season afloat for the Mets. If not, us fans will have to take the brunt of the pain of watching sub-par starting pitching possibly sink the Mets.

Full Count: Mets Pitching Report Week 1

A week into the season the Mets starting rotation has been a case of going one step forward and two steps back.

The Mets have gotten tremendous efforts from Jonathon Niese, R.A. Dickey and Chris Young. However, their so-called ace Mike Pelfrey has turned a feel-good story into one of concern.

On Wednesday night, Pelfrey was atrocious.

Against the Phillies, Pelfrey was pulled after pitching only two-plus innings and allowing seven runs (six earned) on eight hits and one walk.

Pelfrey looked rattled and scared. Perhaps Pelfrey is uncomfortable feeling like he has to carry the weight of the staff. He looks lost.

There is still plenty of time, and there is no need to hit the panic button. But there is definitely a need to hit the “concern” button with Pelfrey.

Lets look on the bright side though.

Niese, Dickey and Young were solid in their starts, and have given confidence to a team in desperate need of it.

Niese was first to get things in motion.

Coming off an opening day loss to the Marlins, the Mets were in need of a wake-up call and got that in the effort Niese produced. He pitched seven strong innings and limited the Marlins to two runs on for hits and only one walk. While he did not earn the win, Niese kept the Mets in the game and would have won if not for a blown save by Francisco Rodriguez.

Up next was Dickey. Dickey just continued to do what he did all last year.

Dickey still has his doubters and he seems hellbent on proving them wrong. Against the Marlins on Sunday, Dickey pitched six innings while allowing five hits and three walks. Surprisingly, Dickey struck out seven batters.

With the momentum of a two-game winning streak and capturing a rare road series, Chris Young was next on tap.

Young was faced with the task of going head-to-toe with a member of the Phillies’ vaunted rotation and one of their “four aces” in Cole Hamels. Young more than held up his end of the bargain and won in his first start with the Mets.

Young pitched in and out of jams while completing 5.1 innings pitched. He did give up five hits and four walks, but he did strikeout seven batters. Young looked comfortable out there. There may be some bumps along the road as he battles back from all those injuries, but Young has a world of potential and experience.

After all the woes the Mets suffered away from Citi Field last year, to start the year 3-2 on the road is something to be proud of. The effort of the staff, sans Pelfrey, is a good reason why.

The law of averages suggest Pelfrey will bounce back. He better.

If the Mets are to contend this year, Pelfrey will have to step up. Hopefully the Mets also get a boost from Chris Capuano, who will make his Met debut on Saturday.

In the meantime it’s refreshing to see the other so-called question marks on the staff bust out of the gate trying to prove the critics wrong.

Predictions for the 2011 Mets

My first go round at Opening Day predictions at Mets360 did not go so well. So, I could go one of several ways:

A. Try to make “easy” predictions to make me look good in hindsight.
B. Make off the wall assertions and when one of them came true, trumpet the fact that I picked it.
C. Repeat last year’s idea of being a combination of realistic/optimistic and hope for better results.

I’m going for the third path. So, here are my 2011 predictions for the Mets:

1. Josh Thole hits at least 7 HR, which bests Felix Millan’s single-season best.
2. Ike Davis reaches 85 RBIs.
3. David Wright’s K% drops at least five points from last year’s 27.4% mark. Assuming last year’s AB total of 587, that would mean 131 (or fewer) strikeouts rather than 161.
4. Jose Reyes establishes a career-best in OBP, besting his .358 mark in 2008.
5. Angel Pagan finishes in the top 10 among full-time CF in SLG%
6. Carlos Beltran becomes the first Mets RF to play (at least) 110 games and put up (at least) a 110 OPS+ since Bobby Bonilla in 1993.
7. Mike Pelfrey pitches 200 innings for the third time in four years.
8. R.A. Dickey has an ERA of 3.75 or lower, which is lower than all of the projection systems at FanGraphs predict.
9. Jonathon Niese will top Johan’s Santana’s 17 Quality Starts from a year ago.
10. Chris Capuano makes 25 starts.
11. Chris Young has a K/9 below 6.00 compared to his 7.82 career average.
12. Francisco Rodriguez saves 35 games.
13. Blaine Boyer does not end the year with the club.
14. RHB post an OPS of at least .900 versus Tim Byrdak, who makes us long for Feliciano and even Schoeneweis.
15. The Mets will score at least 20 more runs with the bases loaded than the 97 they had last year.
What are your predictions for the 2011 season?

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With Opening Day for the Mets falling on April Fools Day, we’re playing it straight this year at Mets360. But click here if you want to see last year’s April 1st entry.

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